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Discussion on Cultural Networking (I)


Taiwan-SEA Cultural Networks Group discussions

Group I :

Remapping SEA Cultural Infrastructure

(1) Creating a map of cultures "beyond ASEAN”

(2) Policy proposals:

  • Enhancing education by offering:
    • Foundation courses on SEA cultures
    • SEA studies and academic research
    • SEA languages and translation courses
  • Loosening visa requirements
  • Recognizing professional qualifications in lieu of academic credentials

Discussion focused on the creation of a cultural map that goes beyond ASEAN. Although there are other important topics, such as loosening visa requirements and recognizing professional qualifications in lieu of academic credentials, the committee wanted to provide a broader and holistic policy structure on which the incoming government could base policies on cultural exchange. Moderator Philippe Peycam said that when mapping out policies and programs, the government tends to put more emphasis on economic results, but as the mediator between the government and grassroots cultural agents, the committee has the responsibility to remind the government that there is much more at stake than mere economic benefit. Questions such as what results policies and projects are expected to bring, what exactly is "people-to-people exchange”, and what benefits can ensue through cultural exchange with SEA—these are all worth discussion. In order to help the government map out cultural policies, the committee should make a list of indices that can be used to assess future achievements.

At present, the Ministry of Culture still bases its cultural policies on the ASEAN framework. The committee believes that, though it is in general a useful tool, the ASEAN cultural map and model are not suitable for Taiwan because they are based on statehood. Philippe Peycam said that since Taiwan is not yet recognized as a country by ASEAN countries, Taiwan's policies should not be based on the statehood criterion either.

The government could certainly use the ASEAN framework, the Japan Foundation, and the model of KOICA (Korean International Cooperation Agency) as a frame of reference. However, there is no need to be limited by these frameworks because situations are different in Taiwan, and these frameworks are not able to reflect Taiwan's potential to achieve fruitful exchanges with SEA.

For example, Japan is very eager to interact with SEA, has invested heavily in the region, and is going to host the 2020 Olympic Games. Taiwan, on the other hand, is in a unique position and can achieve the same or even better results with a comparatively small investment of 4 million U.S. dollars. Although South Korea has spent huge amounts of money on equipment and infrastructure, it lacks a concrete policy structure. Both these approaches are worth studying, but neither will yield the best option for Taiwan. Japanese society lacks diversity and is less welcoming to newcomers, and immigrants and migrant workers in South Korea also have trouble finding acceptance. But Taiwan is different. This has always been a land of immigrants, and Taiwanese society has already started to embrace diversity. Thus, Taiwan has the potential to reach higher goals and establish its own model, prioritizing people-to-people exchanges. Though economic benefit is not the main focus of this model, there will undoubtedly be such benefits for the tourism industry, which will be boosted by such exchanges.

The committee recommends that Taiwan adopt a new model which does not put an emphasis on statehood. What Taiwan needs is a macro perspective and a framework that goes beyond the limitations implicit in the concept of statehood, and exchange partners should not be limited by such limitations. In fact, government bodies might not be best placed to carry out projects of this nature; but private foundations, on the other hand, might suffer from limited budgets. The committee suggests that a non-state model be used and that the government set up an independent, third-party SEA cultural exchange organization, to be funded and given resources by the government and charged with conducting cultural exchange projects with SEA.

The committee recommends that the Taiwan government draw on the vitality, energy, inclusiveness, and tolerance of Taiwanese society when drawing up cultural policies, because it is in these values that Taiwan's strength lies. Margaret Shiu believes that Taiwan's unique status is precisely why cultural changes should be carried out not by the government but by grassroots cultural agents. Through interaction with international NGOs, meaningful cultural diplomacy can be achieved. Philippe Peycam agreed that such a model would best suit Taiwan, considering its current international status.

In the past, private organizations had to wait until they were big enough to attract government attention and receive funding. When organizing events, event planners often fell into the trap of a top-down mindset and let themselves be driven by economic results because they wanted to win grants. This is why the government should encourage grassroots organizations to rethink which model best suits their needs. Creativity must be one of the model's key elements because it is creativity that drives productivity.

Marco Kusumawijaya thinks that infrastructure is often one of the focuses in discussions of policy. He said the government should bear in mind that the concept of infrastructure is not limited to hardware and equipment, and that a society's most important infrastructure is its people. Culture comes from and manifests through humans, not a country or some cultural exhibition center. Cultural exchanges have to be conducted through people, such as artists and the general public. This is the right way for a government to promote cultural exchange. But it is not easy, however, and the first step is to understand how cultures are communicated and shared between humans. Models and methods should be diverse and ever-changing rather than standardized and unified, because the human is a living organism.

Hin San Goh recognized the importance of cultivating translators and interpreters. He said that the government should set up more SEA language courses and projects to promote Taiwanese culture by translating Taiwanese literature into SEA languages. He talked about his own experiences translating and publishing the works of Taiwanese women writers into Malaysian so that more Malaysians could learn about Taiwan.

On the eve of the new administration's assumption of office, the committee would like to remind the government to cherish the diversity of Taiwanese society. Only when the government learns to see the value of diversity will it be able to prepare Taiwan for SEA. Committee members called on KMT and DPP politicians to put aside their ideological differences and embrace respect: respect for all communities in our society, respect for individual differences within these communities, respect for immigrants from SEA, and respect for the aborigines whose ancestors also came from SEA. There is no need to fight over the definition of "Taiwanese”. All inhabitants of this island, be it the aborigines, the Hoklo peple, the Hakka people, migrants etc., are all part of Taiwanese society and also a part of SEA. The incoming government claims it will be better at listening to the people, that it will be more democratic. The committee, therefore, looks forward to seeing whether its policy suggestions are taken seriously, as all its recommendations are based on democratic values and are aimed at giving the people a voice.